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Review: Chicago at the Arts Centre Melbourne

By Nicola Bennett

Returning just in time for Melbourne’s summer theatre season, Chicago delivers in spades exactly what it promises: a seductive showcase of exceptional dance, voice and comedy set against a jazz-soaked backdrop of the 1920’s Chicago’s criminal justice system. The production follows the plight of the murderesses of the Cook County Jail, in their individual quests to achieve not only exoneration, but to win the notoriety and adoration of the public during the trial process. The return of this musical to Melbourne demonstrates none of the staleness or passivity that such a well-known show may risk developing. In practice, this show simultaneously honours its long-standing reputation, but also delivers something fresh and lively for its eager audience during Thursday’s opening night performance.

Chicago is a show that anchors itself to the pace of its leading ladies, and in viewing this production there is no question of their ability to handle this heavy responsibility.

Natalie Bassingthwaighte radiates the perfect balance of youthful naivete and simmering menace as the jail’s newest murderess, Roxie Hart. Bassingthwaighte demonstrates the professionalism and control that comes with her extensive experience across a range of performative outlets, also revealing a strong comedic flair in her performance toolkit that is a treat for the audience to witness. Matching Bassingthwaighte in the other lead role is Alinta Chidzey as the sultry and suspicious Velma Kelly, who delivers the high kicks and intensity of the jail’s resident celebrity. Both handle the physicality of their roles well, maintaining finesse and pace as the show progresses, and capturing their evolving relationship as they compete to ensure both their trial dates and public notoriety.

Jason Donovan brings a suave sophistication as the manipulative lawyer Billy Flynn who represents the murderesses in navigating their legal woes. Perhaps lacking the strong vocal and dance presence of the other key performers in this production, J Donovan delivers both the comedic and dramatic within his role with ample enthusiasm. Casey Donovan as the opportunistic Matron “Mama” Morton is a powerhouse vocal performer and holds her own amongst a strong cast, providing a memorable highlight of the evening with her rendition of “When You’re Good To Mama”.

This production also boasts a magnificent ensemble that sends the show’s seduction and talent into overdrive, delivering extensive physical dance numbers and supporting cast roles with class, sharpness and oozing sensuality. Such undeniable talent on such a mass scale maintains the intensity of the production and its quality through the entirety of its duration. This production’s rendition of “Cell Block Tango” is of particular note, as it reworks certain aspects of the iconic number to add new flair and flavour of this returning production.

The entire production is also held together by a strong score which is under the skillful conduction and musical direction of Daniel Edmonds. Having the band on stage throughout the entirety of the production captures the jazz club theme that holds the various tracks together, and allows the brassy sound to carry further throughout the space, as well as serving as the primary set piece for the show. Moments of interaction between conductor, band and the cast throughout the show are a nice touch that endears the performance further in the eyes of the audience.

Viewing this production is a true joy and invites the audience into a world (hopefully!) far removed from their common experience. Murder, seduction and jazz never looked so good as it did on stage at the State Theatre this week, and it reminds audiences why Chicago remains as popular as ever. Do yourself a favour and jazz square over to the Arts Centre this summer to see Chicago, playing until 23rd February 2020.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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